The poet (in bandanna) and pals, Wind River Range, Wyoming, Summer 2001. Photo by Joshua Sheldon.

The poet (in bandanna) and pals, Wind River Range, Wyoming, Summer 2001. Photo by Joshua Sheldon.

“I never read my reviews,” the novelist Pat Conroy once said. “Not even the good ones. Barbra Streisand once told me, if just one person in the audience doesn’t applaud, it bothers her. I’m the same way. I’d be devastated to read that someone didn’t like my work.”

Back in 2001, a young woman named Veronika Linhartova Morley, then a student at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, contacted me by email. She wanted to write about my poetry for a class assignment on contemporary American poets.

She told me she’d read a poem of mine called “Carpentry” in the Boston Review and had found a number of other poems on line. I was flattered. Only, I never wrote a poem with that title and I’ve not yet published in the Boston Review. I looked up the poem, which was written by a Scott Anderson (see the link above) and thought, I could have written it, but I didn’t.

I hated to disappoint Ms. Morley, but broke the news to her by reply email. She was embarrassed; however, it turned out that all the other poems she’d found were indeed mine, and she still wanted to write about my work. We had a nice correspondence and she wrote a delightful little essay about my poetry and the influence of Elizabeth Bishop and Donald Hall on my work.

Her essay begins with a lengthy quote from a lecture I gave at the University of Alaska some years before:

“The contemporary poet of my choice, Scott Edward Anderson, once wrote in his essay ‘Making Poems Better: The Process of Revision’: ‘…writing poems is a lot like cooking. We bring everything we know about cooking and about what foods go well together to preparing a meal, just as we bring all we’ve learned or read or practiced to writing a poem. Sometimes, it’s just luck that we get the right combination of ingredients, but much of the time a fine meal is made from good ingredients being put together by a well-practiced chef.'”

She went on to make some good observations about my work and points about what I learned from both Bishop and Hall. She also identified a spiritual note in my work and my conflicting feelings about “the way we treat our world.”

In all, it’s a pretty accurate picture of my work, its process and two of my biggest influences. And the last line of her essay would make any poet proud. She writes that through her assignment and correspondence with me, she “not only learned about the process of writing poetry, but also learned to appreciate poetry even more.”

I don’t know how the essay was graded. I still have a copy. Veronika came to this country from Czechoslovakia in the late 1990s, as she told me, to get the kind of education unavailable in her own country. Some time ago, she gave me permission to reprint the essay, which you can read in full here.



Robert Browning

Next month marks the bicentennial of Robert Browning, who was born on May 7, 1812, in Camberwell, England. My Samantha recently sent me his poem “Now” and it spoke to me, although it was not familiar to me.

Browning is a bit of an enigma: simultaneously overshadowed by his more famous wife, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and lionized as one of the great creators of the dramatic monologue.

Victorian readers found his work somewhat difficult, in part because of his sometimes arcane language and obscure references. He was home-schooled and self-taught – subsequently, many of his allusions were lost on his more conventionally educated audience.

Ultimately, Browning, as Wordsworth said of all great poets, had to “create the taste by which [he was] to be enjoyed.”

One of Browning’s enduring themes was “ideal love,” which for the poet meant the consummation and culmination of an intuitive course of action wherein a pair of lovers pierce the barrier separating them to become one in an all-consuming spiritual union — the “moment eternal” between two human beings.

To Browning, the passion and intensity of romantic love was often at odds with conventional social morality. Ideal love in Browning’s conception required giving up everything, what others have called “the world well-lost for love.”

Here is Robert Browning’s short lyric poem, “Now”:


Out of your whole life give but a moment!

All of your life that has gone before,

All to come after it, — so you ignore,

So you make perfect the present, condense,

In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,

Thought and feeling and soul and sense,

Merged in a moment which gives me at last

You around me for once, you beneath me, above me —

Me, sure that, despite of time future, time past,

This tick of life-time’s one moment you love me!

How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet,

The moment eternal — just that and no more —

When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core,

While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut, and lips meet!


–Robert Browning, 1812-1889


Howl and Other Poems was published in the fall...

City Lights Books' Pocket Poets Series made poetry portable.

I started this post back in October, before becoming aware of quite a number of Poetry Apps for smartphones — that’s what I get for being stuck with a BlackBerry Storm, which sucks at storing apps and is so bad that no one in their right mind would write an app for it much less have one…er…ah…yeah.

Anyway, I’ll amend this post at the end with a few links to good lists of apps, which you can try if you are an iPhone or iPad user or perhaps even an HTC or Android user.  At some point, I’ll join you.  Here’s what I wrote in October:

My pal Andy Swan had a lively dialogue recently that I overheard on Twitter.   He was talking about letting innovators innovate and not be beholden to some altruistic standard that dictates what they should work on.

(Microlending site is wrestling with this question, too, as they recently admitted their main competitor is, well, “Farmville,” the game where you can waste time tending a virtual farm instead of helping Kiva build real farms.)

Anyway, one of Andy’s points was about whether innovators should focus on solving societal ills or focus on solving problems that gnaw at them.

“What if Edison[‘s] not being able to read at night is not a legitimate problem while others starve,” Andy wrote.

He went on to say, “Innovators should build what they love.  The market will distribute.”

I wondered what I would build if I were to just build what I love.  And it got me thinking.  I would love to build a new way of distributing poetry; one that makes it easy, portable and enjoyable for people.

What I’m thinking is something between and app and a book.  As transformational as City Lights BooksPocket Poets series, only with better design and more consistent, high quality poetry.

Of course — like my idea from over a decade ago for a poetry cable TV channel — there’s no money in it. Would that my interests were more like the virtual corruption you can participate in on “Mafia Wars,” but there it is.

I mentioned the idea to a dear friend of mine who said that perhaps I’m wrong; maybe there is a market for it. Not a huge market, perhaps, but certainly more than just a handful.

What features would you want in such an app, device, or “book”?  Searchable index by poet, title, first line, assumed first line, theme, occasion, time-period, style?

It wouldn’t have to be a huge amount of storage on a device or would it? Could it be in the cloud and accessed via the cloud? Would you have to build in incentives for people to continue using it, contests, triva, etc.?

I’m just throwing this out there and will wrestle with it down the road. I may even pull together a Survey Monkey to gauge the interest need for features, and where the money is going to come from.


Well, it turned out there are quite a few apps out there already, so my idea was a little late in the game.  Here are some links to some lists of apps you may want to explore:

Quick Access to Poetry in the Age of Technology (NY Times)
An essential poetry app as addictive as raspberries (Poetry Foundation)
Poetry Apps (Randall Weiss blog)
Poetry Apps (Emerging Writer blog)
Apps for Poets (App Advice b log)
A New Poetry App for the iPhone (Brian Spear)

I like what Spear, a poet and editor of The Rumpus, says in that last post about his ideal poetry app (back in May of 2010!):

The poetry app of my dreams is an aggregator, one that scans the web daily for new publications and then pulls them into a reader.  It would need to push traffic to the online journals of origin and would have to include a way to limit the places you receive poetry from–maybe set it up so that the user gets a poem from a place and then decides whether or not to receive future updates from that journal.  Swindle is a start toward that on the web, but I haven’t found anything like that for the iPhone yet.

Has that need been met?  Do you have a poetry app you recommend?  Do you want to build one with me?  What would you build if you could build what you love?


Enhanced by Zemanta
Cover of "The Jabberwocky"

Cover of The Jabberwocky

The wonderful poetry library in Lower Manhattan, Poets House, asked:

What were your favorite poems as a child and how do you inspire a love of poetry in your own children?

Easy.  My favorite poems as a child were “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll.

Of course, I also enjoyed Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection, A Child’s Garden of Verses, but these two poems left the biggest impression.

In fact, the former served as a model for the first long poem I ever wrote, which thankfully doesn’t survive.  It was a rambling “epic” about my great grandfather, Nathan Lewis Burgess, a whaler who sailed out of New Bedford in the late 19th Century.

The latter was just chosen by my oldest son, Jasper, for an audition at the school play this year.  Hearing him recite “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/ All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe,” the other night was music to my ears.

I have always tried to cultivate a love of poetry in my children.  First, with the aforementioned eldest, who once accompanied me to a reading I hosted for Ducky Magazine, which I founded with two friends.  I think Jasper must have been nine. When one of the poets on the bill was delayed by traffic, I had my son read her poems to the audience.

And we often read poems from Stevenson’s Garden, as well as The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, Mother Goose, and individual poems on special occasions around the dinner table.

My children all know their father is a poet, and I always encourage them to write their own poems.  (I still have Jasper’s collection of poems, which he prepared in a little booklet for sixth grade.)

And last May, I took my younger son, Walker, to Poets House to meet and hear one of my poetry teachers, Robert Hass.  As I wrote about earlier on this blog, Walker brought a poem to share, which Bob read aloud during the morning children’s program.

And recently, my daughter Elizabeth told her teacher that her father was a poet and volunteered me to come in to share some poetry with her class.

The keys to sharing poetry with children?  Keep it simple, make sure it rhymes, don’t try to analyze the  poems (unless they do), and show them how much you love poetry.  They will get it.

A love of poetry is a wonderful legacy to pass on.




Enhanced by Zemanta
Rimbaud Carjat

Arthur Rimbaud

Poet William Stafford was a quiet and gentle force in poetry. He liked it that way; at least that’s what he told The Paris Review in 1989.  (I think it was published in 1993, the year he died.)

As William Young, the interviewer, wrote in his introduction,

The intimacy of William Stafford’s poetry would seem to belie the enormous popularity the poet’s work has enjoyed, but in fact it is a product of Stafford’s keen ability to discern poetic language in everyday speech and appropriate it for his own work.

Stafford, whose first volume of poetry was not published until 1960 when he was forty-six, was born in the small town of Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914 and died in Portland, Oregon, on August 28, 1993 at the age of seventy-nine.

He came to my high school when I was a freshman and read poetry to us.  I had been reading the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, in the Louise Varese translation published by New Directions, and was all hopped up about the poet as visionary and seer, about the power of poetic vision on the soul.

So, when it came to the Q&A, I raised my hand and asked, “Mr. Stafford, do you agree with Rimbaud that the the poet must be a visionary?”

It was a brilliant question.  I stood there while the entire audience turned around to admire my brilliance.

Then I saw their faces.  One classmate in particular, one of the drama students, looked at me incredulously and mouthed something that appeared to be “Rim-bod?!”

Then I realized what I had done.  Despite being in my fourth year of French lessons, I had badly butchered Rimbaud’s name, and rather than sounding like “Rambo,” I had made it sound like “Rim-bod.”

My face went red.  I sank down into my seat.  Humiliated.

Stafford, for his part, very calmly looked at me and answered, “No. I think the poet needs to be able to see the world he or she lives in, but not necessarily be visionary. Paying attention goes a lot longer than vision.”

You can read many of William Stafford’s poems at Selected William Stafford Poetry.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Poet Kiki Petrosino, who has been tweeting as @harriet_poetry for the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog, tweeted a question this morning:

Good morning, poets. If poetry=a tree with many branches of influence, then to whose twig do you attach your own bright leaf?

I’ve thought about this question over the years, but started to visualize it a bit in reaction to Kiki’s (or Harriet’s?) question.

My poetry is rooted in what Robert Hass called the “strong central tradition of free verse made out of both romanticism and modernism, split between the impulses of an inward and psychological writing and an outward and realist one, at its best fusing the two.” (Hass, Introduction to Best American Poetry 2001)

I studied with Hass and with Gary Snyder, along with the late Walter Pavlich, and have had some great guidance along the way from poets Alison Hawthorne Deming, Donald Hall, Colette Inez, and Karen Swenson, along with a cast of other friends, both poets and poetry readers.

If I look at poetic influences — teachers by example, rather than in person — Elizabeth Bishop, and by extension, her Hopkins, Herbert and even Moore, could be counted among mine.

But also Pound, Rimbaud (in the Varese translations), the two Kenneths, Rexroth and Patchen, at various times, especially in my early days; the Robert Lowell of Life Studies, and novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje.

I’d have to add to that list a trio of Irish voices (tenors?), including Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, and Paul Muldoon. And while we’re on the British Isles, let’s not forget Geoffrey Hill, John Clare and, of course, “the Bard,” Robert Burns.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose “Mariner” was given to me by my Aunt Gladys, directly influenced my first “serious” poem (now lost, thankfully) about my great grandfather, a whaler who sailed out of New Bedford.

There’s also a curious group of more experimental influences from Anne Carson and Mina Loy to Lorine Niedecker and Jorie Graham. Walt Whitman, Fernando Pessoa, and Allen Ginsberg, all great experimenters themselves, were also part of my early poetry reading education.

It’s an eclectic, multi-branching tree, to say the least.  I’m not sure one can see the influence of any one more than another in my work — someone once wrote that the influences of Bishop and Hall were most evident — but it would be a rather spectacular looking tree, should one chose to design it.

One could get easily lost in such a forest.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Magpie by Diane Stiglich (collection of the author).

Magpie by Diane Stiglich (collection of the author).

Almost a decade ago, the Alaska Quarterly Review published a poem of mine called “Naming.” I thought of it today because a good friend mentioned it in a message to me on Twitter. (She had overheard a conversation about magpies I was having with another friend.)

I’m not around magpies much these days, living on the East Coast. I miss them. Magpies, all corvids, really, are a totem for me (bears, especially polar bears are my other totem). Highly intelligent birds with bad reputations, they are a lot of fun.

Gary Snyder once told me and a group of other students that we should find totems for our poetry, “this is the world of nature, myth, archetype, and ecosystem that we must all investigate.” He also told us to “fear not science,” to know what’s what in the ecosystem, to study mind and language, and that our work should be grounded in place. Most of all, he instructed, “be crafty and get the work done.”

Advice that also, curiously enough, reminds me of magpies.

Here is my poem “Naming”:

The way a name lingers in the snow
when traced by hand.
The way angels are made in snow,
all body down,
arms moving from side to ear to side to ear—
a whisper, a pause;
the slight, melting hesitation–

The pause in the hand as it moves
over a name carved in black granite.
The “Chuck, Chuck, Chuck,”
of great-tailed grackles
at southern coastal marshes,
or the way magpies repeat,
“Meg, Meg, Meg”–

The way the rib cage of a whale
resembles the architecture of I. M. Pei.
The way two names on a page
separated by thousands of lines,
pages, bookshelves, miles, can be connected.
The way wind hums through cord grass;
rain on bluestem, on mesquite–

The tremble in the sandpiper
as it skitters over tidal mudflats,
tracking names in the wet silt,
silt that has been building
since Foreman lost to Ali,
since Troy fell — building until
we forget names altogether–

The way children, who know only
syllables endlessly repeated,
connect one moment to the next by
humming, humming, humming–
The way magpies connect branches
into thickets for their nesting–

The curve of thumb as it caresses
the letters in the name of a loved one
on the printed page, connecting
each letter with a trace of oil
from fingerprint to fingerprint,
again and again and again—

Scott Edward Anderson
Alaska Quarterly Review, Summer 2001

Here is an Mp3 recording of me reading “Naming” Live at the Writers House, University of Pennsylvania, on September 22, 2008: Scott Edward Anderson’s “Naming” (Note: there is a 10-second delay at the beginning of the file.)

Postscript: And here is a filmpoem of “Naming” made by Alastair Cook in 2011: Naming

Years ago, I had an idea for a “Poetry Channel”: an all-poetry cable network featuring poets and celebrities reading poems, poets being interviewed, and films about poets or based on poetry.

I didn’t pursue the idea because, well, because my idea for the “Disaster Channel” got shelved and that was how I was going to back my poetry idea.

But I recently stumbled upon Mary Karr’s “Poetry Fix,” which brings to life the kind of programming I had in mind.

Here’s Mary Karr and co-host Christopher Robinson reading and talking about Robert Hass’s “Old Dominion”:

You can check out more on Mary Karr’s YouTube channel.  It’s a great series that’s just started and worth following as it develops.

Enhanced by Zemanta

For the past 13 years I’ve been sending out a poem-a-week email during National Poetry Month. Each week, I introduce a poem to readers on the list, which is now over 300 strong. 

At month’s end, I’m always asked to extend it beyond the month of April.  In lieu of that, I think I’ll publish poems from the series here from time to time, as long as I can get the poets’ permission.

(If you’d like to subscribe to the list for next year, send me an email at greenskeptic[at]gmail[dot]com.)


My friend Lee Kravitz — whose memoir, Unfinished Business: One Man’s Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things, comes out next month — is a great reader of poetry.

So when he handed me a book of poems at Thanksgiving last year, I knew it would be worth reading.

He told me two things about the book: it was written by another good friend of his and she was an intensive care physician in Washington, DC.

The book was Night Shift by Serena J. Fox.  And one thing you quickly learn from her poems is that Dr. Fox is no Dr. Williams making house calls in a small, northern New Jersey community.  She started her career in the emergency room of Bellevue Hospital in New York City, one of the busiest ERs at the time – the early era of AIDS.

(I had an experience at Bellevue in the early 80s – probably while she was in residence there — involving an attempted suicide by a neighbor. It was not a fun place to be back then.)

As a poet, Fox has an uncanny ability to apply her poetic sensibility to the reality she witnesses through her work.  I admire the way she seamlessly weaves medical terminology – a rare gift that perhaps only Jane Kenyon mastered before her – and the harshness of life as she sees it into a poetry that transcends reportage.

Fox tackles a variety of forms and styles from traditional lyrics to fragments and more experimental sequences.  And she is equally adept at short and long forms — her long poems, including the title poem, “Northeast Coast Corridor,” “Blood Holies,” and “551,880,000 Breaths” are remarkably varied and sustained collages of images and information, stories and voices overheard.

How glad I am that Lee introduced me to her work and pleased that I can introduce a sample of it to you here.

Here is Serena Fox’s poem,

The Road to Çegrano, 1999

(with Patch Adams and Clowns, Skopje, Macedonia)


Pinpricks of poppies


Of them—




Oblivious to


Camps and tents

Of no interest to




Flaunting bright

Points in


Grass and fields—

The other side of



In the camps


With blackbird


Beak eyes

Scavenge trinkets



Kisses from


A busload of








Supplies and



Armloads of




With the villagers—

Six thousand here


Thirty-nine thousand




Is the only




Covering the tents

And doctors

Without borders.


The clown-doctors

Come armed with

Red rubber



Electric-blue hair.

The kids riot for




They quiet for



Blown gently



For the boy

Leg in a



Group photos

Promises to send



Thank G’d the




What would they have

Done in winter



But where to send


Back to the



Over the fence

The fields?


Out toward the





Boys, girls, bombs,



–Serena Fox, from Night Shift

(Copyright Serena Fox.  Reprinted with permission of the author)


Serena sent me this note about the poem: “In May of 1999 I joined Patch Adams for a one-week trip to Macedonia and the refugee camps holding thousands of people who had scaled snow-covered peaks to get out of Kosovo. We were an eclectic assortment of clown-doctors who had traveled with Patch before and others like me who hoped to contribute in some small way to soothing the chaos going on in the former Yugoslavia.

I thought I was going to deliver intravenous supplies and help set up a clinic outside the camps for women. I also ended up roving the camps with children of all ages and forgoing my usual reserve for my first red rubber nose and a blue wig. As usual the people I met gave me infinitely more than I could ever give back. I was impressed by the efficiency and cleanliness of the UN sponsored camp.

The most vivid sensory memory is that of the foothills covered with poppies, women in the fields wielding scythes, the slowing of time and the redness of the poppies which had the exact quality, for me, of arterial blood.”  –SJF


Thanks to Peter Semmelhack, who asked for poetry recommendations via Twitter, I made a list of the 5 books of “contemporary” US poetry I can’t live without:

Elizabeth Bishop, Geography III

Robert Lowell, Life Studies

Gary Snyder, Turtle Island

Donald Hall, Kicking the Leaves

Robert Hass, Praise

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
What are the 5 books of poetry you can’t live without?